Previously I talked about God, humans, angelic beings and beasts, and the light they might shed on evil. Today I shall steal a glance at a certain set of trees. But first back to the problem itself.
One possibility from Wikipedia regarding evil:
[…] that no theodicy is needed or even appropriate. God, if he exists, is so far superior to man, that he cannot be judged by man. Man’s assumption that he can tell God what a benevolent and all-powerful god can or cannot do, is mere arrogance.
Sorry, Kant, but this alone is not satisfying. Yes, His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts, but how are we to know and follow the benevolent God if He is like that? The Incarnation and the self-revelation of God that it entailed with the Word having become flesh would hold little meaning if we could just stop at that. But God says in John 1.18 that He has made Himself known (cf. Is. 40.5)!
The Bringer of Death, The Destroyer
Qur’anic Islam does not have to deal with this problem, since both good and evil are from Allah according to its teaching. Well, that’s consistent and honest. Doesn’t beat around the bush about its world view. So the teaching of the Qur’an does not imply a theodicy, it seems. But the words of the Tawrat, the Zabur and the Injeel, which is the Scriptures of Christ and His disciples, do not cast things so simply. It is difficult.
Shall we continue looking, then, for a more satisfactory answer?
Arda Healed: More Beautiful than the First
Another possibility that Wikipedia mentions, but one that I do not think Calvin Teng likes:
God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify himself (which, by definition, he alone is infinitely entitled to, without vanity). He allows evil to exist so that humanity will appreciate goodness all the more, in the same way that the blind man healed by Jesus appreciated his sight more so than those around him who had never experienced blindness.
Actually, after reading the Silmarillion and thinking about Arda Healed (we currently live in “Arda Marred”) I’ve always thought there must be something better, more beautiful about the second creation than the first. We are always limited and have always been, even when there was no sin in the world; was this God’s way of revealing more of His beauty to us, an additional slice that we could not otherwise have seen?
The Tree of Life, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
The Tree of Life then must have a purpose beyond Genesis: and it finally comes in Revelation.
For let us consider the trees of Eden. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil appears to have been the only thing that could make Adam and Eve conscious of the existence of free will. As for the Tree of Life, it could do nothing for them as long as they were sinless, since they already were immortal, and as soon as they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil God took away the Tree of Life, so they also could not use it after they lost their immortality to become physically immortal once more.
The Tree of Life then must have a purpose beyond Genesis: and it finally comes in Revelation. If I were to write a story like Genesis without the thought of Revelation, I should think the Tree of Life a superfluous device in the Garden of Eden. As it is, though, I think it a massive foreshadowing. Or he who wrote Genesis was a bad writer.
Consider, then, Modified Dualism:
The powers of good and evil are unequal, and the evil power is merely tolerated by the good power, who turns all the acts of the evil power into eventual good. (Wikipedia)
This seems to work. And it’s consistent with Scripture’s articulation of the spiritual truth, spiritual but far from sterile; indeed it is expression of a powerful truth that displays itself across our lives:
And(A) he who searches hearts knows what is(B) the mind of the Spirit, because[a] the Spirit(C) intercedes for the saints(D) according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together(E) for good,[b] for(F) those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he(G) foreknew he also(H) predestined(I) to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be(J) the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also(K) justified, and those whom he justified he also(L) glorified. (Rom. 8.27-30)
God in Time and Space
God says here that He works all things together for good, that though He allows sin and its evils to exist He works even them for good! And in the Old Testament we see an example of this played out vividly in the narrative of history, in the way in which the Lord worked throughout the life of Israel’s son Joseph:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of(A) the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and(B) fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for(C) am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but(D) God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[a] should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen. 50.15-20)